10 December 2015

Plath, Otto Plath

The following is a post first started between June and December 2012, revisited briefly in June 2014, and then forgotten about as I was working full time on the letters of Sylvia Plath project. I felt it was important to work on the blog some more this fall with the intention of posting it on 5 November, which was the 75th anniversary of the death of Otto Plath. But then other things got in the way...

Recently, though, I had a change of heart about the bulk of this post. Much of what I wanted to say I learned years ago but will refrain from posting now as I believe that Heather Clark, in her forthcoming biography of Sylvia Plath, will discuss at beautiful and thorough length the history and biography of Otto Plath.

However, what I do still want to relate is interesting information I obtained Warren's Plath's daughter Susan in June 2014 concerning something Paul Alexander wrote as fact in his biography of Sylvia Plath, Rough Magic. Alexander writes, "On April 13, 1885, in the village of Grabow, Germany, he a born Otto Emil Platt" (Da Capo Press edition, 2003: 15). This is patently not true. Susan told me that when she asked Alexander about this several years ago he admitted that he simply made it up. (And makes me wonder what else he made up in his book! Rough Magic, indeed ) So, if you ever happen to read anywhere that Otto Plath was born Platt, please keep in mind this valuable information provided by the PLATH family.


Hélène said...

I've never read rough magic because it seemed to take sides like some other bios did. I can't believe biographers just make things up to fill gaps?! Is this a common occurence in Plath biography? Mention of a new one piques my curiosity however.

suki said...

I read Rough Magic. I've read all the biographies. Biography has to take a side. It has to posit a stance , although in the case of the Plath biography , it seems that there are lots of things that don't accord with the Estate and there are sides, rather than opinions. I hadn't realised though that Alexander admitted to making things up. There are a few other 'facts' which weren't in the other books.

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hand-posting this from Right Mind Matters because I accidentally lost the original post:

It is disturbing to read that Alexander made up the one fact; as you say, Peter it could mean others were made up too. I did like that "fact" though, since it corresponded with my married last name, Carole Brooks Platt. These Platts originally came from Ware, England.

Anna said...

I really think it's horrible to acually know (as opposed to suspect) that biographers make things up and the mere fact that they actually do, is really despicable! I have read Rough Magic many years ago and I kind of liked it back then (before I knew about all that Estate drama etc.), because I really liked the extensive chapters on Otto and Aurelia's biographies. And now, even those are ruined, because I cannot trust Alexander anymore. :(

However, I wonder now what Otto's last name actually was, since Platt really would have made sense taking his German descent into consideration and Plath is definitely not a German or a Polnish name. Did Susan say anything about that?

citronyella said...

Has Heather Clark or anyone researched Otto Plath's World War One registration draft card in the National Archives?

During World War I there were three registrations.[9]
The first, on June 5, 1917, was for all men between the ages of 21 and 31.
The second, on June 5, 1918, registered those who attained age 21 after June 5, 1917. A supplemental registration, included in the second registration, was held on August 24, 1918, for those becoming 21 years old after June 5, 1918.
The third registration was held on September 12, 1918, for men age 18 through 45. From wiki selective service act 1917.

The third registration would have applied to him as he was in this country. Since the FBI performed an investigation of him, it may have been triggered by his non participation in the registration. Would love to have more info on him in the "missing years".

Peter K Steinberg said...

Hi Citronyella! As I'm sure you know for the first draft in 1917 Otto Plath was 32 years old, and thus outside of the range of years for the draft. But you are right about the third draft. Have you read the FBI files? If I read it correctly, Plath had to register as a resident alien (?) and if this is the case then he wasn't yet a US Citizen, so would he have had to register for the draft? He was naturalized as a US Citizen in 1921. One of the pages gives a good breakdown of his whereabouts from 1910 to 1918. I can email them to you if you like? Please contact me peterksteinberg AT hotmail DOT com.

citronyella said...


Thank you for your speedy reply. I was doing research (on my family history) in the National Archives Great War draft registration card records on line and found the above link to an Otto Emil Plath, same name, same dob, but in California. It was intriguing, and though I am sure its just a coincidence, still it made me wonder since he was on the west coast in 1912 at the University of Washington. The nearest relative information tells that it could not have been Sylvia Plath's father.

I have not read all of the FBI reports, if you would be so kind to send them to me, I would appreciate it. Please send to the email address linked to my Citronyella account.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.